Owners Tips

Lesson Learned: How to Avoid Losing a Wheel

Cars are machines made of parts and components, many of which have a lifespan that can be maximized by adopting good driving practices, using your vehicle properly, and ensuring that regular maintenance is performed.

This is a highly demonstratable, evidence-based fact that some drivers understand. Others do not.

We recommend having your vehicle inspected by a technician regularly because they are experts at caring for your car, maintaining it, monitoring its health over time, and performing procedures that ensure it keeps ticking optimally for the long haul. They’re like doctors but for your car.

Like your doctor, technicians are also experts at diagnosing small problems and intercepting them before they turn into bigger and more expensive issues.

You Spin Me Right Round

Speaking of small problems that can turn into bigger ones, let’s meet the lowly wheel bearing. This component is a vital part of the reason your vehicle can roll down the road on top of four rapidly rotating wheels while every other part of your vehicle remains more or less stationary.

Simply put, wheel bearings allow your wheels to spin despite being mounted to a suspension and axle that are fixed.

If all is well with your wheel bearings, your vehicle will roll efficiently, smoothly, and quietly down the road as the bearing surfaces slip and slide rapidly over one another, separated by an array of ball bearings or rollers in a bath of lubrication.

As wheel bearings wear out, they get rough, beaten up, and noisy. A lot can affect the lifespan of a wheel bearing, including how well it’s maintained. If a wheel bearing fails, it can cause your vehicle to lose a wheel, resulting in a serious collision that could harm you and your fellow motorists.

That’s why the wheel bearing is a part of your vehicle that requires regular inspection and care, and a part that’s best replaced long ahead of a catastrophic failure.

Don’t Play Roulette With Your Wheel

Sometime before that failure, a bad wheel bearing may make a sound like this, demonstrated by Reddit user u/BaldBeard76 who shows us a noisy wheel bearing on a Ford Explorer with a humorous game of “Wheel Bearing of Fortune.”

Fellow Redditor u/penguinmoss brings us this clip, demonstrating the sounds of another bad bearing.

Cars are noisy places, but on the road, you might perceive the wheel bearing noise as a low growl, groaning or grinding sensation from behind the wheel, or a throbbing helicopter-like roar.

If you’re hearing sounds like these, it’s a strong indication that your car needs to visit its doctor. Don’t ignore these sounds and hope they’ll disappear on their own, or you might end up like the unfortunate driver in this post.

A Ford Focus was dragged into a shop with heavy body damage and a missing wheel. The customer had refused to have a wheel bearing replaced on his last visit, claiming that wheel bearing replacements are a scam since he’d never needed to have one changed before. Instead of listening to his mechanic because he thought their advice was a hoax, he endangered his own life along with that of many other drivers and pedestrians.

Before its failure, this customer’s wheel bearing probably sounded something like this, which u/Durcaz says is the worst wheel bearing they’ve ever seen. Here’s one that’s even worse, thanks to u/Trolltrollrolllol.

Listen, Then Take Action

There are two key lessons to take away from this:

The first is to listen to your car. A bad wheel bearing, braking system trouble, tire-related problems, and a multitude of other potential issues typically give themselves away by generating a new unpleasant or unusual sound. If you hear anything out of the ordinary, take it as a sign to go get a check-up just to be safe.

The second tip to remember is that the cost of regular inspection, servicing, and necessary repairs are often a fraction of the cost of inaction. Servicing wheel bearings is usually cheap, and replacing them is usually much more expensive. In either case, losing a wheel, damaging an axle, or causing a car accident will be far, far pricier still.